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Goryeo Songs

#Sounds of Korea l 2017-11-22

Sounds of Korea

Goryeo Songs
The most well-known Goryeo song is probably “Ssanghwajeom (쌍화점)” meaning a dumpling store. Here is the first verse from the song.

I went to a store to buy dumplings.
But a Muslim merchant grabbed my wrist.
If the words got out of this place,
I will tell everyone that it was you, young, little clown.

Interestingly, the term “ssanghwa” here is not the dumpling we are used to these days, with meat and vegetable fillings stuffed inside flour dough. It was more like plain bread made with fermented wine. And the reason a Muslim merchant is mentioned in the song is that there used to be a community of Muslim merchants from Central Asia living in the Goryeo capital. The song’s lyrics are certainly out of the ordinary as they read almost like a description of sexual harassment. But, given that the young witness was asked to keep silent about it, the woman and the merchant must have been flirting with each other. The song continues as thus.

I went to Samjangsa Temple to light a lantern.
But the temple owner grabbed my wrist.
If the words got out of this temple,
I will tell everyone that it was you, young, little monk.

A few years back, a Korean movie of the same name was made about the secretive and lustful liaisons among the members of the Goryeo royal family. Now let’s listen to the song that inspired the movie’s sensual plot.
Music 1: Ssanghwajeom/ Performed by Goryeo Gayo Ensemble

That was “Ssanghwajeom” sung and performed by The Goryeo Gayo Ensemble. Korea had a signature song type that represented each dynasty. There was hyangga (향가) during the Silla period, gayo in Goryeo, and sijo during the Joseon era. Goryeo gayo was largely folk songs sung in Korean, so most of the gayo pieces were recorded after hangeul was invented during the Joseon Dynasty. But, sadly not many gayo songs have been preserved to this day, presumably because the lyrics were deemed too lewd and brazen by the standards of somber, Confucian-influenced Joseon scholars, and not worthy of keeping records of them for posterity. If “Ssanghwajeom” was the one that survived the strict censor of Joseon-era scholars, imagine how much racier the perished songs must have been. Sadly, even the recorded Goryeo gayo songs have not been performed for a long time, so it’s hard to know how the original songs were actually played. Nonetheless, some musicians have recently attempted to play the gayo songs by restoring the old music notes or writing new melodies for the original lyrics. Coming up next is another well-known Goryeo gayo, titled “Gasiri (가시리),” which translates to “Are you going?” Today’s rendition was composed by Lim Jun-hee and is sung by tenor Lee Young-hwa and traditional singer Marie Jung. It’s followed by the adaptation of “Gasiri” into a children’s song titled “Gani Gandago Yali Yala (가니 간다고 얄리 얄라)” or “Going Going Yali Yala,” written by Kang Sang-gu and sung by An Jeong-a (안정아) and the Haneum Children’s Choir.
Music 2: Gasiri/ Composed by Lim Jun-hee, sung by Lee Young-hwa and Marie Jung
Going Going Yali Yala/ Composed by Kang Sang-gu, sung by An Jeong-a and Haneum Children’s Choir

Did you notice how the two songs feel different even though they are based on the same lyrics describing the sadness of seeing a loved one leave? The last gayo song we’re going to enjoy today is “Cheongsanbyeolgo (청산별곡),” a song about living a life of leisure and happiness in the green mountains. There are several historical dramas in production in Korea, and these old songs could inspire yet more interesting stories. Let’s wrap up this week’s Sounds of Korea with the third movement “I Will Live” from “Cheongsanbyeolgok,” sung by Kim Hyeong-seok and Ahn Hye-ran with an accompaniment by the Gwangju Metropolitan Traditional Music Orchestra.
Music 3: Third movement of “Cheongsanbyeolgok”/ Sung by Kim Hyeong-seok & Ahn Hye-ran

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